Box Office

What happens when the sequel to the most successful R rated comedy of all time is released on Memorial Day Weekend?  The Hangover Part II happens, earning an estimated $86.48 million over three days, accounting for the biggest weekend ever for a live-action comedy.  Kung Fu Panda 2 followed in second place, not quite living up to its predecessor, with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in third place.  It's an unusual weekend though, as both Hangover and Panda opened on Thursday, and will continue making it rain through Monday.

Back in the days before audiences really gave a rat's ruby starfruit about box office grosses, conventional wisdom held that the sequel game was generally one of diminishing returns, with each new entry earning less money than the film that preceded it.  Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment of the franchise, opened with an estimated $90.1 million in its first three days.  That haul qualifies the Johnny Depp vehicle as the biggest debut weekend of 2011 so far, but it also established that the Pirates series has been performed somewhat more like an old-fashioned franchise. 

The last few weeks have seen big summer movie debuts, with Fast Five pre-emptively cracking open the season and Thor following up with a respectable opening for a an arguably second-tier superhero.  With very little competition from other beefy superheroic types, Thor held on to the top spot for a second week, earning an estimated $34.5 million.  The big surprise this weekend was Bridesmaids; the raunchy wedding-themed comedy from Kristen Wiig exceeded all expectations in second place, with a projected $24.4 million opening gross.

As the first superhero film of the season, Thor officially kicked off summer this weekend, and the Norse God brought a moderate amount of box office thunder.  The Kenneth Branagh film debuted at number one with an estimated gross of $66 million, which is right in line with the expectations for the cinematic debut of the character.  After its big opening, Fast Five naturally fell to second place, with two new romantic comedies well behind in third and fourth place.

The marketing for Fast Five assured moviegoers that this year's summer movie season would begin in April, and based on its estimated gross, that assurance proved apt.  Not only did the fifth entry in Universal's improbably enduring franchise typify the summer movie style of over-the-top action, but its estimated weekend gross of $83.6 million broke the record for an opening weekend in April.  The previous record holder was, not coincidentally, 2009's Fast & Furious, which debuted with $71 million.

It's a good year to be an animated film.  If studio estimates prove accurate, then 20th Century Fox's Rio will have claimed the top spot for the second week in a row, pulling in a projected $26.8 million over the holiday weekend.  Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, meanwhile, nipped at Rio's animated heels with $25.7 million in estimated receipts.  This weekend was the second in a row that has exceeded the grosses from the same weekend last year, with another new release, Water for Elephants, adding $17.5 million to the overall box office.

The reign of family-oriented films continues, with Rio making what is estimated to be the biggest opening of the year so far with a projected $40 million haul over the weekend.  Not only that, but the animated musical led the pack in what was the first weekend of 2011 to see an increase over the corresponding weekend last year.  Rio accounted for the lion's share of the roughly 11% increase over the same three-day window in 2010, with the attempted horror franchise restarter Scream 4 earning an estimated $19.3 million, well below expectations.

It was the weekend of Russell Brand, with current studio estimates showing that films starring the British comedian occupied the number one and three spots at the box office.  Though the second week showing of Hop is undoubtedly a victory for Brand, Arthur is a mixed bag, debuting behind the action thriller Hanna.  Last weekend's Hop, in which Brand voices the Easter Bunny, retained the number one position with an estimated $21.6 million, but the new release Arthur, with Brand in the title role, came in third place with $12.3 million.

If current estimates prove accurate, then Hop, the family film starring Russell Brand as the voice of the Easter Bunny, has earned not only the number one spot at the box office, but also the title of the biggest debut in 2011 so far.  Hop's projected haul of $38.1 million since Friday is about a million dollars above than previous 2011 title-holder Rango, which fell to eighth place in its fifth week of release, but is still the highest grossing film of 2011 so far with $113.8 million.

Despite a considerable promotional push featuring gorgeous women in various states of fetishized dress wielding automatic weapons and samurai swords, Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch was one-upped at the box office this weekend by the established family-friendly property Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.  The sequel, adapted from the novel by Jeff Kinney, earned an estimated $24.4 million since Friday, placing it indisputably ahead of Sucker Punch's estimated $19 million haul. 

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